Aurora Lora: "Cuts this drastic" will directly affect OKC student education

Aurora Lora discusses addition $7 million cut to education in OK. File photo.

by Makalyn Kowalik
Journalism Intern

Monday night of May 16, 2016 at the administration building for Oklahoma City Public Schools there took place a board meeting of the Oklahoma City Public School District members as well as a public forum.

The building was packed to the brim with reporters, concerned parents, teachers, principals and students.

Among other topics discussed, such as the district’s initiative to provide equity, access, and success to all students in OKCPS – especially those of color – through Advanced Placement testing, the buzz of the night was of course over the $30 million budget cuts for the upcoming school year.

The meeting commenced with Vice Chairman Justin Ellis quoting Henry Ford, saying, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.” A fitting quote for the hard times OKCPS is facing right now, Ellis implied.

Once the topic of the slashed budget was finally brought to attention, the mood of the room immediately shifted. Those who were just on their cell phones not paying attention to the previously presented topics were now upright with their pens and notepads ready to listen. I, too, focused myself more on the overhead PowerPoint as well as the two main speakers of this topic: Associate Superintendent Auroa Lora and Chief Financial Officer Jean Bostwick.

Bostwick began with projecting the OKCPS Budget Reduction Target overview as of May 16, 2016. As many know, the District is targeting reductions of $30 million.

The planned cuts break down into the following:

  • $9 million: E-rate funding is a federal discount program for technology in the classroom based on school poverty levels. The last of these encumbrances will no longer be available or funded.

  • $4.5 million: the District has sustained approximately $4.2 million in state funding cuts this year; in addition, though, other state programs have been reduced by nearly $300,000.

  • $12 million: The best estimates are for school districts to project a reduction of $200 per weighted student.

  • $4.5 million: The District expenses have exceeded revenues for the past two years as the District invested in compensation reform for OKCPS school administrators and teachers focusing on recruiting and retention and incurred increasing operating costs. This has to be compensated.

During this portion of the meeting, a stream of high school-aged students walked down the aisle with their right hand across their chest holding signs reading, “I am, you are, we art…all affected by the budget cuts.”

They stood for a minute in front of the board and audience in silence, then walked back up the aisle out of the meeting causing only little disruption to the discussion. The board had no response to these students advocating for their predicted cut art programs.

As Bostwick’s presentation about the financial situation came to a close, she finished with saying, “As our expenses have grown, revenue funding from the state on a per-student basis has not kept up.”

Next, the one board member everyone was waiting to hear from, Aurora Lora, took control of the meeting. She was presenting the additional $7 million in cuts that is necessary to bring the District to the total of $30 million needed for the upcoming school year.

“These are dire financial times and the budget cuts present the school district with some of the most difficult and challenging decisions that we have made in years,” Lora said. “Although these cuts are extremely difficult, I believe we have approached a process with caring efficiency.”

She then went on to list where the additional $7 million in cuts will stem from:

  • School consolidations: Combining lower level schools with low student population with elementary level schools.

  • School calendar alteration: Ending the current school year two days early.

  • Reorganization of the operation center: This includes cutting 30% of cabinet positions such as

    • Chief operating officer

    • Chief information officer

    • Associate Superintendent

  • 25 percent of athletics and art supply budget reductions

    • Adjunct coaching positions will be cut

  • Contract negotiations  

  • Declare several properties owned by the District to put on the market and sell. These properties include:  

    • Dewey Elementary

    • Marcus Garvey Charter School

    • Garden Oaks Elementary School

    • Tyler Elementary School

    • Valley Broke Elementary School

    • 615 N. Classen Blvd.

“These are challenging times for us and everyone is making difficult sacrifices to offset the state revenue failure. But our first priority is to the students, and we are doing all that we can to minimize the impact on them; but cuts this drastic will no doubt impact the quality of their education experience,” Lora concluded.

As a student of the OKC public school system, this was hard to hear.

The Gayly – 5/17/2016 @ 12:03 p.m. CDT